Rubio's stumble opens door to underdogs in final New Hampshire sprint

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Marco Rubio Under Fire for Repetition After GOP Debate

The final weekend before New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary was a steady one for long-time front-runners Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. But a trio of governors who need strong showings Tuesday to revive their campaigns have one big reason to feel bullish: Marco Rubio.

The Florida senator, who surged to second place in polls after a coming in third in the Iowa caucuses, spent Sunday trying to extinguish a political brushfire after he delivered the same canned answer three times within a matter of minutes at Saturday's presidential debate.

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Standing to gain most would appear to be New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who initiated the line of questioning that stumped Rubio and who has held more New Hampshire events than any other Republican, according to a tally from the New England Cable Network.

He had fallen to just 6 percent in a new Monmouth University Poll released Sunday but taken before the debate, far behind fellow establishment candidates Rubio, Ohio Governor John Kasich, and Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor.

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"In New Hampshire, voters are tuned in and paying attention, so what happened on that stage is important and will definitely impact the outcome of the vote," said Jennifer Horn, chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.

Decision Time

Rubio's stumble, perhaps the worst of his campaign so far, came at a crucial time. Not only was he showing signs that he may be the candidate to finally coalesce the party's establishment wing, but he had shown in Iowa that he was attractive to Republicans deciding in the final week before the caucuses.

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According to a new Monmouth University Poll released Sunday, barely half of the likely Republican voters -- 49 percent -- say they've made up their minds ahead of Tuesday's voting. The rest remained open to switching candidates or said they have yet to decide.

"I said I would engage at the time and place of my choosing," Christie said during a town hall in Hampton. "I engaged last night, and how do you think it went?"

His audience erupted in applause, and one woman yelled, "Great job last night."

While Donald Trump has led in New Hampshire polls for weeks and pulled 30 percent in the new Monmouth poll, the question of who'll place second is far from settled.

In the poll, Kasich is at 14 percent, Rubio and Bush are at 13 percent and Iowa caucuses winner Ted Cruz is at 12 percent, the poll found. The rest of the field is at or below 6 percent. The bulk of the poll was taken before Saturday night's debate.

In the Democratic race, Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 52 percent to 42 percent. Clinton on Sunday took a detour to Flint, Michigan, where she said she would make a "personal commitment" to solving the city's water-contamination crisis, and that Congress should act promptly to provide $200 million for a fix.

See Marco Rubio on the campaign trail:

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Marco Rubio on the campaign trail
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Rubio's stumble opens door to underdogs in final New Hampshire sprint
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., arrives at a campaign rally in Sanford, Fla., Monday, March 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., shakes hands at a rally in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, Saturday, March 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., bows his head in prayer at a campaign rally in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Sunday, March 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., smiles at a campaign rally, Tuesday, March 1, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., addresses supporters at a rally at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. pauses while addressing the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., Saturday, March 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks at a campaign event to the Sun City community in Bluffton, S.C., on Thursday Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. boards a plane with his family and staff to leave Manchester, N.H., Wednesday Feb. 10, 2016, en route to South Carolina after the New Hampshire primary. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
IN FLIGHT - FEBRUARY 10: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) talks with reporters on his charter flight from Manchester-Boston Regional Airport February 10, 2016 en route to Spartanburg, South Carolina. Rubio placed fifth in the New Hampshire primary, behind fellow GOP candidates Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Donald Trump, who swept away the competition with 35-percent of the vote. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks to the media during a visit to a polling site at Bedford High School, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, in Bedford, N.H. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., works to charge up a crowd during a campaign stop in a high school cafeteria, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Londonderry, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Jessie Lemire, 12, of Candia, N.H., takes a photo with Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as he greets people during a campaign stop at Puritan Backroom Restaurant, during a campaign stop in Manchester, N.H., Monday Feb. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. leaves a campaign stop, Friday, Jan. 15, 2016, at Morseâs Sporting Goods in Hillsboro, N.H. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. reaches out for a handshake during a town hall campaign stop, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, at the New Hampshire Republican State Committee town hall in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
MT PLEASANT, SC - JANUARY 13: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) greets guests during a campaign rally at the Water Dog Grill on January 13, 2016 in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Tomorrow Rubio will join other candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president for a debate at the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center in North Charleston, S.C.. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. smiles as he talks to members of the media following his speaking at Rastrelli's Tuscany Special Events Center in Clinton, Iowa, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., arrives with his wife Jeanette Dousdebes, right, and their daughter Daniella, 13, to speak at the Maytag Innovation Center in Newton, Iowa, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and 2016 presidential candidate, waits to speak during a town hall meeting at the Maytag Innovation Center in Newton, Iowa, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. Rubio found himself under siege on two fronts Tuesday over his attendance record in the U.S. Senate as the Florida lawmaker embarked on a swing through snowy Iowa. Photographer: Scott Morgan/Bloomberg via Getty Images
FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., points to a potential supporter for a question during a campaign stop in Rochester, N.H. As 2015 wanes, the Florida senator is back in Iowa on Tuesday, Dec. 29, for a multi-day swing, hoping to shore up support and finish in the top tier of candidates in the Feb. 1 caucuses. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm, File)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks during a campaign stop at Weiler Manufacturing, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, in Knoxville, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., greets workers during a campaign stop at Weiler Manufacturing, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, in Knoxville, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - NOVEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) greets people before speaking during a community rally for 'Never Again' which was bringing attention to what the organizers say is a rise in worldwide anti-Semitism and the campaign against Israel's right to exist on November 15, 2015 in Miami Beach, Florida. Rubio continues to campaign for the Republican party's nomination. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - NOVEMBER 21: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to guests during a town hall meeting on November 21, 2015 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Yesterday Rubio participated in the Presidential Family Forum in Des Moines with six of his Republican rivals for the nomination. Rubio has several campaign stops scheduled in the state today. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaks at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council meetings in Washington, DC, November 16, 2015. AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 12: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the Sunshine Summit opening dinner at Disney's Contemporary Resort on November 12, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.The dinner is the kick-off of a three-day event that will draw thousands of Republicans, mostly to hear live speeches from all the GOP presidential candidates on Friday and Saturday. (Photo by Tom Benitez - Pool/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 13: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during the Sunshine Summit conference being held at the Rosen Shingle Creek on November 13, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. The summit brought Republican presidential candidates in front of the Republican voters. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and 2016 presidential candidate, speaks during a campaign rally at the Country Springs Hotel in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. Rubio will appear at Tuesday's Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CONCORD, NH - NOVEMBER 05: Republican Presidential candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL) files paperwork for the New Hampshire primary at the State House on November 5, 2015 in Concord, New Hampshire. Each candidate must file paperwork to be on the New Hampshire primary ballot, which will be held February 9, 2016. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Republican Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio leaves the New Hampshire State House after filing for the state ballot November 5, 2015 in Concord, New Hampshire. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, NH - NOVEMBER 4: Republican Presidential candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL) participates in a round table discussion at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Rubio is looking for a bump in the polls following a strong outing in the last debate. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during an event at a restaurant Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, in Las Vegas. Rubio is scheduled to attend events in the Las Vegas area through Saturday. (AP Photo/John Locher)
GREENVILLE, SC - SEPTEMBER 18: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to voters at the Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum September 18, 2015 in Greenville, South Carolina. Eleven republican candidates each had twenty five minutes to talk to voters Friday at the Bons Secours Wellness arena in the upstate of South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at Civic Hall about the 'sharing economy' on October 6, 2015 in New York City. Rubio, who has been experiencing a slight uptick in the polls after strong debate performances, has a second book out in paperback this Tuesday called American Dream: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks with students Anabelle, and Gregory Watson during a campaign stop at Robie's Country Store Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Hooksett, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., smiles as he speaks to supporters at an outdoor restaurant in the Santurce district of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. The U.S. territory must find its own way to get its financial house in order, Rubio wrote in an op-ed published in Spanish Friday in El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico's largest newspaper. The Florida Republican opposes efforts to allow Puerto Rico to use bankruptcy laws to deal with a staggering $72 billion debt. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a campaign stop at the VFW, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015, in Littleton, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 26: GOP Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., holds a town hall meeting in Londonderry, N.H., on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 18: Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (L) (R-FL) mans the grill with U.S. Rep. David Young (R) (R-IA) at the Iowa Pork Producers Pork Tent during the Iowa State Fair on August 18, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage and touring the fairgrounds. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - August 17: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., greets supporters during a Family Night event at Dean Park in Ankeny, Iowa, Monday, August 17, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 14: Marco Rubio gives speach for the Foreign Policy Initiative at 3 West Club on August 14, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Sands/WireImage)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) participates in the first prime-time presidential debate hosted by FOX News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The top-ten GOP candidates were selected to participate in the debate based on their rank in an average of the five most recent national political polls. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 05: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) greets guests gathered for a campaign event at Town Hall on August 5, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. Rubio is in Cleveland to participate in the Fox News GOP presidential candidate debate scheduled to take place tomorrow evening. The top ten polling Republican candidates were chosen to participate in the debate. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, smiles while speaking during a rally at Town Hall restaurant ahead of the Fox News Republican Presidential Primary Debate in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Rubio will appear on stage with 9 other presidential candidates for the first Republican presidential debate tomorrow evening while former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal didn't make the cut. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and 2016 presidential candidate, speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to Majority' legislative luncheon in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 18, 2015. The annual Faith & Freedom Coalition Policy Conference gives top-tier presidential contenders as well as long shots a chance to compete for the large evangelical Christian base in the crowded Republican primary contest. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
BOONE, IA - JUNE 06: Republican presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) waits his turn to speak at a Roast and Ride event hosted by freshman Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) on June 6, 2015 in Boone, Iowa. Ernst is hoping the event, which featured a motorcycle tour, a pig roast, and speeches from several 2016 presidential hopefuls, becomes an Iowa Republican tradition. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
GREENVILLE, SC - MAY 09: Republican Presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) greets supporters at the Freedom Summit on May 9, 2015 in Greenville, South Carolina. Rubio joined eleven other potential candidates in addressing the event hosted by conservative group Citizens United. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 17: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 17, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - APRIL 13: Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida makes a formal announcement that he is entering the 2016 Presidential race at the Freedom Tower on April 13, 2015 in Miami, Florida. (Photos by Charles Ommanney for the Washington Post)
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Rubio's Stumble

After getting roughed up on the debate stage Saturday, Rubio embraced the moment at a town hall on Sunday in Londonderry, suggesting that it wasn't a flub at all.

"You know, it's interesting that right now at last night's debate, 'Oh, you said the same thing three or four times,'" Rubio said, mocking the criticism. "I'm going to say it again: The reason why we're in trouble is that Barack Obama is the first president, at least in my lifetime, that wants to change the country."

Todd Harris, Rubio's top strategist, dismissed attention to the shaky debate performance, saying it was a "media narrative that staying on message is a negative thing."

"Our goal has always been to communicate our message, and stick to it," he said.

Pat Allen, a 66-year-old semi-retired writer who is considering supporting Rubio, felt conflicted over Rubio's stumble. "The mistake he makes is he keeps saying the same things over and over again, but they're very good things," she said.

Campaigning Sunday in Nashua, an upbeat Kasich said he's always thought that the impact of debates are overestimated but is happy to benefit from what he thinks was a good outcome for him on Saturday night.

"We're going to do really well, and I understand this bus is going to South Carolina,'' Kasich told reporters outside of his campaign vehicle. He's already announced eight events on Wednesday through Friday in state with the next primary.

Kasich is likely competing for second place behind Trump with Rubio, Bush and Christie, said Tom Rath, the former New Hampshire attorney general who has advised multiple presidential campaigns and is backing Kasich.

The Ohio governor had a good debate because he didn't do anything to lose support and Rubio stumbled, Rath said. Any support that leaves the Florida senator isn't going to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, may go to Christie, but could go to Kasich, he said.

"Our effort here, more than anything else, has been to demonstrate his relevance to the process,'' Rath said. "We've got to get a vote that manifests that relevance."

See John Kasich through the years:

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John Kasich
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Rubio's stumble opens door to underdogs in final New Hampshire sprint
Ohio Gov. John Kasich announces he is running for the 2016 Republican party’s nomination for president during a campaign rally at Ohio State University, Tuesday, July 21, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. Kasich, a two-term governor and former congressman, has little name recognition in the crowded GOP field, but he is already airing television ads in New Hampshire where he is heading immediately after making his run official. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Ohio Gov. John Kasich announces he is running for the 2016 Republican party’s nomination for president during a campaign rally at Ohio State University, Tuesday, July 21, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. Kasich, 63, launched his campaign before a crowd of 2,000 at an event marking the entry of a strong-willed and sometimes abrasive governor in a nomination race now with 16 notable Republicans. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Supporters wait for Ohio Gov. John Kasich to announce he is running for the 2016 Republican party’s nomination for president during a campaign rally at Ohio State University, Tuesday, July 21, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. Kasich, a two-term governor and former congressman, has little name recognition in the crowded GOP field, but he is already airing television ads in New Hampshire where he is heading immediately after making his run official. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Ohio Gov. John Kasich gives Joshua Bowman a hug after hearing about his troubles about during a visit at RP Abrasives, Monday, July 13, 2015, in Rochester, N.H. Kasich is considering joining the crowded field of candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president. Joe Shean is at left. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at an event at the Clark County Republican Party office Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Las Vegas. Kasich, a two-term Ohio governor and former member of the U.S. House, is considering running for the Republican nomination for president. (AP Photo/John Locher)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 19: Ohio Governor John Kasich speaks during the 'Road to Majority' conference June 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. Conservatives gathered at the annual event held by the Faith & Freedom Coalition and Concerned Women for America held the annual event to discuss politics. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
FILE - In this July 13, 2015, file photo, Ohio Gov. John Kasich talks with Joshua Bowman, right, and Joe Shean during a visit at RP Abrasives in Rochester, N.H. Kasich is declaring his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination on July 21. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)
Ohio Gov. John Kasich presents Ohio's 2016-2017 operating budget after signing it Tuesday, June 30, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. Kasich said the $71.2 billion, 2-year state budget he signed helps people without getting "loose" with the spending. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 19: Ohio Governor John Kasich speaks during the 'Road to Majority' conference June 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. Conservatives gathered at the annual event held by the Faith & Freedom Coalition and Concerned Women for America held the annual event to discuss politics. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19- Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during the Faith & Freedom Coalitions Road to Majority conference which featured speeches by conservative politicians at the Washington D.C. Omni Shoreham Hotel, June 19, 2015.(Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 18: Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 18, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 03: Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) talks with the press after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber, March 3, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
US Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (2nd L) waves alongside Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman (L) and Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) during a campaign stop at Tom's Ice Cream Bowl in Zanesville, Ohio, on August 14, 2012. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)
Gov. John Kasich of Ohio speaks at the second day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, Tuesday, August 28, 2012. (Harry Walker/MCT via Getty Images)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) – Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) left, and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) right, appear on 'Meet the Press' in Washington D.C., Sunday, June 3, 2012. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 31: At the ornate Ohio State House, Ohio Governor John Kasich signs the newly passed Senate Bill 5, which limits collective bargaining for state workers in Ohio, in Columbus, Ohio, Thursday, March 31, 2011. Newly elected republican Ohio Governor John Kasich is working toward to balancing an Ohio budget in deficit through a budget proposal with extensive budget cuts, spending reform, and changes in labor laws, including restrictions on collective bargaining. (Photo by Melina Mara/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Ohio Governor-elect John Kasich talks to reporters after meeting with House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio), right, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), left, and other GOP Governors-elect at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, December 1, 2010. (Photo by Mary F. Calvert/MCT/MCT via Getty Images)
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Trump's Strategic Shift

Trump, who needs a convincing win in the state to erase memories of his disappointing finish in Iowa last week, made a rare retail stop on Sunday in New Hampshire. The campaign for the former reality TV show host has mostly relied on large rallies instead of the town halls, house parties and the kind of one-on-one contact with voters that is traditional in New Hampshire.

At a diner in Manchester, Trump ate eggs and bacon, shook hands with voters and returned to attacking the Republican establishment. During the debate the night before, he battled with a combative crowd, suggesting they were trying to make him look bad because they were donors for his rivals. Party leaders said the audience was mostly Republican activists, not donors.

On Sunday, Trump said the Republican National Committee should have ensured the debate crowd included more students from Saint Anselm College, where the event was held.

"The kids were scalping tickets last night," Trump said on Sunday. "I blame the RNC for this."

Cruz and Bush

Bush, the son and brother of former presidents, joked on Sunday that his "monkey brain" wasn't capable of staying on script like Rubio, a fellow Floridian.

"I envy people that have message discipline to say the same thing over and over again," Bush said Sunday in Salem. "Sometimes it doesn't work out, but normally it does."

Once a front-runner, Bush dropped in the polls after attacks from Trump and verbal gaffes on the trail. There were signs of life in recent days for him, as he's drawn larger-than-normal crowds around the state.

The winner of the Iowa caucuses, Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, mostly stayed out of the fray. He wasn't expected to repeat his performance in Iowa, which depended largely on a strong showing with the state's evangelical voters. His campaign was looking past New Hampshire, where voters tend to prefer candidates more aligned with the Republican Party's traditional pro-business base. Cruz is expected to find more receptive voters in South Carolina, where the contest moves next.

During a rally in Peterborough on Sunday, Cruz barely mentioned the debate the night before. "Did you see the debate last night?" Cruz asked his crowd. "Is it fantastic that we have such an array of wonderful, talented, and dynamic Republican candidates for president?"

-- With assistance from Kevin Cirilli, Mark Niquette and Terrence Dopp.

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